From Stonewall to the White House

Mark Segal at the Pride exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

For me, Pride month is always full of surprises ever since I was a part of that very first New York Pride back in 1970 when I was 18 years old. Everyone seems to want to share a piece of it, and I’m always happy to oblige. I love speaking about that time and helping people understand what it was like. I especially enjoy the pleasant surprise when an organization who I never would have expected asks me to speak. But I was not prepared for one of the surprises that came my way this year.

Last week, my husband Jason and I had the opportunity to finally view the LGBT Pride exhibit at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum in Washington DC. The exhibit features several of my objects from my 52 years of activism. Two years ago I donated 17 boxes of my papers and artifacts to the Smithsonian. My artifacts from the Anita Bryant “save the children campaign,”  items from that first Pride March in New York in 1970, and several political buttons, including one of my favorite ones “How dare you presume I’m Heterosexual.” (Collecting some of the more humorous buttons has become a passion over the years.)

After viewing the exhibit we visited the curators in their offices to chat about LGBT history and the importance of preserving it at an institution like the Smithsonian. After a while, we noticed a lot of activity going on around us, specifically a cart full of files being wheeled out. I asked what that was and learned that they were LGBT objects on their way to the White House for a Pride exhibit which was going up next week. Of course I was curious to know if any of my objects were included. All of a sudden a file was put in front of us and when we asked we were told these would be on display at the White House. They were my personal artifacts from that first Pride in 1970, which we called Christopher Street Liberation Day March included in the file heading to the White House was my Marshal’s badge and one of the event flyers that was handed out. Talk about popping up in unexpected places: the White House!  

That reminded me of my memoir, and when I began to discuss possible titles with my publisher. My favorite was “Pushy Jew Faggot,” which everybody turned down, but another name that was suggested was “From Stonewall to the White House.”  After much discussion between my publisher, agent, Jason, and myself, we decided on “And Then I Danced” which refers to President Obama inviting me to a reception at the White House where I danced with Jason. But even though we didn’t use it as a book title, I’m glad that I can finally say From Stonewall to the White House.

Let me wrap this up as simply as possible. That 18 year old boy at Stonewall never expected that not only would he be asked to dance with his husband at the White House, but that one of his personal artifacts would be on display there. 52 years ago that was inconceivable to me. Now, it’s a joyous reality.